Why the ‘cone of shame’ is so important


The e-collar. The cone of shame. The cone.

Whatever you call it, the e-collar (short for Elizabethan collar) is a vital part of helping your dog or cat heal after surgery or an injury. When animals become injured, they instinctively lick their wounds. However, excessive licking delays healing and may cause the wound site to become infected. Alternatively, with injuries on the ears or face, you don’t want your pet rubbing or pawing their head.

It might look silly, and your pet might hate it, but it’s important to use the cone as directed by your veterinarian.

Does he really need the cone of shame?

In the emergency room at Veterinary Referral Hospital of Hickory, we see too many patients who are paying the price for not wearing their e-collars as prescribed.  They’ve chewed out stitches or worsened wounds, requiring surgery to repair the damage.

Contrary to popular belief, animals do not have magical healing powers in their saliva. Licking or chewing at a wound can result in a severe infection, requiring a long course of antibiotics. This can be especially problematic when the pet has an orthopedic implant as infection can lead to implant failure.

With abdominal surgery, life-threatening injuries can result from chewing out stitches.  We have even seen post-spay patients chew open their incisions and have intestines falling out!

My pet hates the cone! What can I do to help?

Your dog or cat likely needs time to adjust to wearing a cone. The cone restricts your pet’s vision, which is disorienting for them.

To help them adjust, try removing items they may bump into, such as low tables or extra items in the room.  Keep them confined to a low-risk room while they wear the e-collar – one that isn’t full of your most valuable, delicate items!

It’s not safe to let your dog or cat wander the yard unsupervised while wearing the e-collar. For dogs, use a lead for outdoor time and potty breaks, or, if you must, remove the cone before letting them out. No matter what, supervise closely. For cats, the best course of action is to simply keep them inside while they are wearing e-collars.

Talk with us before your leave our hospital about taking the e-collar off for short breaks. Any time the cone comes off, supervise closely. It may be very difficult to get the cone back on your pet, especially cats, so removal is not always advisable. If you do remove the e-collar, when you put it back on, you should be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your pet’s neck.

Should I do anything special while my pet wears an e-collar?

Most dogs and cats adjust to the e-collar quickly. Eating and drinking may be messy at first, but with a properly-fitted e-collar, your pet can eat and drink normally. Sometimes, changing the height of the food bowls or pulling them away from the wall makes it easier for your pet to drink, but this is usually not necessary.

Cats wearing e-collars cannot groom themselves properly, so brush your cat’s fur while the e-collar is in place. This is particularly true for long-haired cats.

Check your pet’s neck daily for signs of irritation from the e-collar. If you notice anything unusual, contact us or your primary veterinarian for options. The cone should be kept clean, so a daily wipe-down is a good idea.

Always supervise your pet while they’re wearing an e-collar. They might get stuck in unlikely places or knock items over that pose a danger to them (such as glass). If you aren’t going to be home while your pet is wearing a cone, put them in a kennel or other confined space.

Can I get an inflatable or soft e-collar instead of plastic?

There are plenty of alternatives to the hard-plastic e-collar. Soft e-collars look the same as traditional cones, but they are made from a soft plastic or fabric for better comfort.

There are also inflatable e-collars, which look like a donut and fit around your pet’s neck, and Bite-Me-Not collars, which look like neck braces and also go around your pet’s neck. There is even a DIY version of the latter option, made by wrapping a towel around your dog’s neck, then securing with an extra-large collar.

Before purchasing (or making) an e-collar alternative, call your veterinarian and see if it’s a good solution for your pet.

Can I decorate my pet’s e-collar to make it more fun?

There are plenty of photos on social media showing dogs with decorated e-collars. Putting extra items on or in your pet’s cone to decorate it can be uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst.

If your pet has a clear e-collar, it’s best to leave it alone. The clear e-collar makes it easier for your pet to see and helps with the adjustment period.

If the e-collar is already solid, and you can’t resist making it pretty, opt for stickers on the outside of the e-collar, where your pet can’t potentially eat them, or non-toxic paint, also on the outside of the e-collar. Do not put items in the cone, and do not cut the cone, as cutting it may enable your pet to reach their injured area.

The bottom line – your pet does not know whether they are wearing a plain plastic e-collar or one decorated to look like a daisy or martini, and by adding décor to the e-collar, you could be endangering your pet.

The e-collar may seem like a hardship, but it’s temporary! Proper use has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars, and more importantly, save your pet from unnecessary pain.

As annoying as it may seem, please do NOT remove the e-collar before you have been directed to do so by your veterinarian.  Until then, give your cone-head a little extra love and attention – especially in those hard-to-reach places, like behind the ears – to keep them comfortable until you can safely remove it.

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